MPs on the Scottish Affairs Committee have urged the government to give the green light to the Acorn carbon capture and hydrogen project in Aberdeenshire, arguing “there is no justification” for the government’s failure to approve a “shovel ready” project.
In a report published this morning, the select committee slammed the government’s decision last year to relegate plans to develop a blue hydrogen production plant and carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) facility at the St Fergus fossil gas terminal to its ‘reserve’ list for taxpayer support.
In October 2021, the government selected industry consortiums in Northwest England and across the Humberside and Teesside region as its ‘track one’ clusters in the race to secure a package of subsidy support that could allow projects to come line from the mid-2020s. The government has indicated it aims to pick a further two clusters for ‘track two’ support, with a view for those schemes coming online by 2030.
However, today’s report criticises the decision, arguing the Acorn Project should be in the first wave of projects. “Delays to decision making around cluster sequencing and the Acorn Project are disappointing,” the report notes, adding that these delays “lead to an even further deficit in carbon capture facilities in Scotland and the ultimate result is a prolonged period where carbon continues to be released at unavoidable levels”.
The MPs on the committee have urged the government to outline funding details for the Acorn project at next week’s Budget, pointing out the St Fergus terminal is a logical place to scale carbon capture and blue hydrogen technology given that is the landing point for 35 per cent of all fossil gas used in the UK.
“It is deeply disappointing that the Acorn Project, that already has much of the necessary infrastructure in place, has been put on the back-burner and the lack of any certainty is majorly denting industry confidence,” said Scottish Affairs Committee chair Pete Wishart. “Clarity must be given at next week’s Budget. If the policy gaps are addressed, and the UK government jumps on the opportunities in Scotland, we could be a major exporter of clean energy with thriving clusters and local economies.”
In response to the MPs calls, a spokesperson Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) said: “We are making the UK a world leader in carbon capture, utilisation and storage and are accelerating development of this vital technology as part of our greater efforts to increase energy security and independence. The UK government is putting £1bn into CCUS through the CCS Infrastructure Fund and we recognise the strong role that Scotland can play in developing and expanding the use of CCUS.”
The spokesperson added the government has provided Aberdeen with £40m in development funding.
Overall, the report delivers a damning assessment of Holyrood and Westminster’s low-carbon hydrogen production strategies, warning it remains unclear whether either governments’ production targets are feasible.
“The UK and Scottish governments arrived at their respective 10GW and 5GW by 2030 low carbon hydrogen production targets independently of each other, and we are unclear how the two targets align and whether either is achievable,” the report notes. “Clarity on this is vitally important given the targets must be reached in just seven years’ time.”
The MPs have urged both governments to explain how they arrived at their respective low carbon hydrogen production targets and how the two goals align. They have also called on Ministers in both administrations to set out “key milestones” they intend to meet as they work towards 2030 goals.
The report comes out in favour of mandating hydrogen-ready boilers in all suitable properties at the earliest opportunity, describing the argument put forward by boiler manufacturers in favour of hydrogen boiler technologies as “convincing”.
“Assurances from the largest four boiler manufacturers indicate that hydrogen-ready boilers will be the same price as standard boilers, removing a key obstacle in rolling them out across UK households,” the report states.
The conclusion comes the day after the Climate Change Committee warned in its latest report that demand for hydrogen is set to significantly outstrip supply, and that limited availability of the fuel remains a “key risk” for net zero scenarios that depend on hydrogen being used for heat in buildings.
As such, the climate advisors warned that using hydrogen in the place of “efficient electrification”, such as electric heat pumps, could keep the UK hooked on imported gas for longer, because it would be a “much less efficient use of domestic energy resources”.